Tim Firmager heads to Thailand’s Phuket region to explore LGBT-friendly accommodation options from budget to ultra-luxury for our LGBT Travel Guide to Phuket, Thailand
Thailand is a well-know destination to the gay community, not least because of its promotion of tolerance to homosexuality, and high-profile transgender community. We at Vada are keen to explore what this is really like for LGBT tourists visiting the country, so are publishing a series of LGBT travel guides to Thailand for Phuket, Bangkok and Chiang Mai.
In this travel guide, we explore the rain-forested and mountainous island of Phuket (and some of the smaller surrounding islands) known for the clear waters of the Andaman Sea, beaches and spas. We’ve sought out accommodation for LGBT travellers in the region, from budget to ultra luxury options that caters for a complete, relaxing experience, as well as couple of key activities of interest.
Hyatt Regency Phuket is located between Kamala and Patong beaches on the coast of the Andaman Sea. The Regency brand sits in the ‘premium’ group of brands within the Hyatt Group, so these resorts are typically very good 4 – 4.5 star properties.
The Hyatt Regency Phuket resort is built onto a hillside so the 201 guest rooms and suites snake up purpose built roads, with buggies taking guests back and forth between the reception/pool area and restaurants. The reception and infinity pool, larger than Olympic-sized, so ideal for anyone who enjoys getting in a few lengths, are almost at sea level, directly overlooking the Andaman. Our research (from yellow facebook etc. ahem) showed that this resort was the most popular with gay men in the vicinity. So for gay male guests may find the name of the sea is semi-literal, And-A-Man…
We stayed in an Ocean View Terrace room. This mid-range room has a king-sized bed, bathroom with huge bath, double sinks, and separate shower room. The outdoor terrace more than doubles the space though, with a shaded outdoor sofa area, more sun loungers and of course a hot tub. This room category is therefore an ideal choice for guests choosing to take a romantic, luxury break.
During our stay, we were impressed by the friendly and attentive Thai hospitality at Hyatt Regency Phuket. Whilst the hotel is busy enough to have atmosphere, it was never too busy, with no rush for poolside sun-beds for example. The hotel offers a spa (although we didn’t try it out, given our previous experience of Hyatt-branded spas, our suspicion is that it’s pretty good). There is also a small fitness centre decked out with the latest TechnoGym ranges.
For those wanting to get out and about, Hyatt Regency Phuket offers free transfers throughout the day to close-by Kamala and Patong, with a small street of gay bars. The hotel is well located for connections onto excursions such as Phi Phi Island and James Bond Island.
Food offerings at Hyatt Regency Phuket are resided over by Executive Chef, Mario Caramella. They include the Pool House restaurant, for daily breakfast and Sunday Linner (the hotel’s version of brunch, but between Lunch and Dinner running from 12-6 with free-flowing drinks), with live entertainment. The Sunset Grill located at the highest point of the property is the fine dining option, with a mix of Thai dishes and Western with Asian touches.
Distance from Phuket International Airport: 30km, approximately 1 hour by taxi, price circa 900 THB
Room rates from: 3,440 THB, Ocean View Terrace Room from 5,400 THB
For LGBT travellers on a budget but still wanting to get the most out of Phuket’s nightlife, then Patong Beach Hotel is an option. Located about 30 seconds walk from Patong beach, this affordable resort is also within walking distance of the nightlife of Thanon Bangla street, and only a couple more minutes’ walk from Patong’s gay street with Zag nightclub, chill out and cabaret bars.
Patong Beach Hotel has 245 guest-rooms split over two wings Siam and Sunset, and we recommend the Deluxe Room category, which feature upgraded decor and balcony area – we suggest requesting one that overlooks the Andaman Sea.
Amenities inside Patong Beach Hotel include 3 restaurants (Banana Pub & Grill, Andaman Garden and Andaman Coffee Shop), 2 bars and a nightclub, and a large pool area, which is very popular with hotel guests.
Distance from Phuket International Airport: 35km, circa 1 hour 15 minutes by taxi, or hotel shuttle transfer
Room rates from: £48 per night for a Superior Room; however we suggest at least a Deluxe Room category from £60 per night.
On one of the southern prongs of Phuket lies Amatara Wellness Resort, whose name derives from a meaning of quality of immortality. This luxury destination spa offers health and wellbeing programmes, spacious and beautiful cuisine, and personalised treatments tailored to health goals.
Arriving at the resort – by private, luxury transport from the airport, this spa resort welcomes guests with an immediate view over an infinity pool out towards the vast blue of the Andaman Sea. Service is highly personalised from the moment of your arrival, with a cold infused tea whilst check-in happens seamlessly in the background, before being taken by buggy to accommodation.
Accommodation at Amatara is in the form of either suites or villas, which range from 60sqm to 150sqm depending on room category. We stayed in a Pool Pavilion (villa number 57), which is surrounded by tropical plants for almost total seclusion. The villa comprises a large bedroom with king-sized bed, the interiors are finished in wood, contrasting with the crisp white of the walls and sheets – giving an overall impression of being luxuriously at one with nature. There is a very, very generously sized bathroom, with oversized tub, separate walk-in shower and double sink. The real selling point of this room category is the large balcony area and private pool (with jacuzzi) overlooking the ocean. The seclusion within the pool pavilion is ideal for an LGBT couple wanting to spend a bit of private time together either in or out of the water.
Amatara has a vast main infinity pool, with multiple jacuzzi areas, those in the sun and shade, and plenty of sun beds, to such a ratio for this boutique property that this communal spa never feels too busy. Moreover the resort has a small, private beach for guests as an alternative to the pool. Guests will be hard pressed not to get the perfect selfie in this cerulean setting.
Being a wellness resort, Amatara boasts a vast spa complex, with programmes that can be created around detoxing, weight management, being active, yoga, anti-ageing, or just luxuriating spa therapy. We indulged in the full-body Thai Hammam experience (165 minutes), which includes ritual sauna, full body scrub and fully body massage. We highly recommend treatments at this spa, in fact spending several days in this sanctuary, it is difficult to want for anything else during a few days of rest and relaxation. A tennis court and small gym facility is also available to guests on site. Nutrition is intrinsically linked to any wellness programme at Amatara, and with separate venues for breakfast, a fine dining restaurant, an ocean-side cafe with health-focussed menu, and even a colonial style parlour for afternoon tea, there is diverse repertoire to draw upon.
Distance from Phuket International Airport: 1 hour 20 minutes by taxi, price circa 900THB, round trip transfers are free of charge when more than 2 nights booked.
Room rates from: 4,700 THB for a Bay View Suite, and (Ocean View) Pool Pavilion from 7,500 THB per night.
If Thailand conjures images of luxury beach living then Tree House Villas on Koh Yao Noi is the accommodation to choose. The views from this north-easterly bay of Koh Yao island give a stunning backdrop onto the Andaman ocean and mini rock islands jutting out of the ocean (similar to those of James Bond Island).
This very new 5-star extension (having opened in February 2018) is an addition to the existing Paradise Resort, who extends their facilities (spa, beach, activities, dining and beach-side bar) to Tree House Villa guests, adding in of course an exclusive 5-star area – with fine dining, a private pool and duplex tree house living, entirely on the beach of course. By use of the word ‘resort’, this is not en mass, much more boutique luxury – there are approximately 70 rooms in Paradise, and 30 Tree Houses available.
The accommodation is split level with the lower floor being relatively open, containing cold plunge pool to help cool down, a swing, sun loungers and one of the mini-bars (as well as downstairs toilet). The upper floor is completely sealed and therefore air-conditioned, as the outdoor temperature remains approximately 35C everyday. This upper level houses a king-size bed (with mosquito net), second mini-bar, desk, balcony, sofa and an enviable bathroom. The bespoke bathtub is most noticeable item, with open shower and ample walk-in closet space.
Tree House Villas main infinity pool includes a shallow sun-bathing area, a jacuzzi, and a unique grotto area for those moments where you really need to keep cool – yes there is seating inside this. There is also a sauna for those who find a tropical outdoor 35C insufficient. As the space is compact (i.e. the pool, restaurant, bar and reception are all one large area), it is easy to order poolside drinks, or fresh coconuts. The hotel being located on the beach, means the ocean is literally a few steps away, so the biggest choice of the day may be to decide whether to swim in the pool or ocean first.
Located on an island means activities are primarily focussed around watersports, we tried kayaking for a couple of hours to a nearby beach further along the island for example. On the far side of Koh Yao Noi is the small local town, where day trips are arranged by the hotel.
As well as having access to the Paradise Resort restaurant (serving breakfast, lunch and dinner) and beach bar, Tree House Villas has it’s own restaurant, Roots, which offers a heightened menu and service. For example the evening menu works as a four-course tasting menu rather than à la carte, which changes daily. The lunchtime menu also include slightly more homely items with a Heston-Blumenthal-esque twist, such as curry wurst and fish and chips with a pipette applicator for infused vinegar.
LGBT couples looking for a few private days together on the beach, by the pool (or perhaps partaking in water sports), with accommodation that is as Instagram-worthy as the unrivalled natural beauty, Tree House Villas offers all of this.
Distance from Phuket International Airport: 15 minutes by taxi to Yacht Haven Marina plus 50 minute boat transfer.
Room rates from: 11,000 THB for a Tree House Villa per night
Whilst accommodation and partying, relaxing and exploring the Buddhist temples on the mainland of Phuket are crucial to any holiday to southern Thailand, excursions to other islands can be what makes a trip of a lifetime.
A visit to Phi Phi Islands is typically on holiday itineraries, this collection of islands made famous by Leonardo Dicaprio’s and Tilda Swinton’s acting in The Beach. Many people choose to stay on the largest island (Koh Phi Phi Don), with plenty of resorts, and beach nightlife, but the smaller Koh Phi Phi Ley is where the most stunning beaches are to be found – Maya beach being the most visited. Thai authorities have recently advised that this beach will be closed for four months for environmental reasons, so do not expect to be able to visit during summer 2018. Despite Maya beach being closed, there is much more to see, especially in the evenings. Snorkelling trips are possible around Phi Phi islands during sunset, where visitors can swim in luminescent algae, a unique experience.
For gay party-goers, the other consideration on an itinerary to Thailand is the TropOut festival for partying, relaxation and discovery. The next one is being held in Koh Samui in January 2019.